Igor Rakocevic put on a shooting exhibition to lead Tau Vitoria to an 84-59 win over Olympiacos Piraeus in Game 1 of the best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoffs on Tuesday at the Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain. Rakocevic was 5-of-6 from downtown on his way to 24 points to bring his team within one win of the club's third straight Final Four appearance. The win also extended Tau's record home-court winning streak to 28 as it won its ninth straight overall. Tau seemed in total control from the end of the first period, despite the return to action of Olympiacos shooter Arvydas Macijauskas, who missed the first eight months of the season with an injury. Serkan Erdogan added 13 and Mirza Teletovic 10, while Luis Scola had 8 points and 9 rebounds and Zoran Planinic posted 8 points, 4 assists and 4 steals. Henry Domercant led the Reds with 13 and Sam Hoskin had 11.
The visitors came out strong in the early going as Panagiotis Vassilopoulos opened fire with a three-pointer to get the Reds ahead. Although Tiago Splitter solved a bad offense with a layup, Tau seemed to be too anxious to play its game. Ioannis Bouroussis extended the lead to 2-5 with a layup, but Rakocevic was about to change that. He tied the game with a three from the corner after 3 minutes. Andrija Zizic came to the rescue with another inside basket and both teams then went scoreless for the following 2 minutes. The intensity was growing with each play, especially after Scola and Bouroussis faced off and Scooni Penn and Pablo Prigioni did the same few seconds later. Rakocevic took over after Tau coach Boza Maljkovic’s first timeout and a triple and five straight free throws ended the drought and returned the lead to Tau at 13-7 with 3 minutes to go. Olympiacos coach Pini Gershon reacted quickly by putting in big man Sofoklis Schortsianitis and then Macijauskas returned to action after an 8-month period on the sidelines. Baby Shaq dunked the first ball he got, but Rakocevic answered again from downtown for an 18-9. Splitter kept rocking inside to give Tau its first double-digit lead, but it didn’t last long as Schortsianitis and Hoskin brought Olympiacos within 20-12 from the free throw line to end the first period.
Tau at the start of the second period and went scoreless for the first 2 minutes, but Olympiacos could not rally. Baskets by Alex Acker and Domercant helped reduce the gap to 22-18 after 14 minutes, but Scola scored his first 2 points from the free-throw line and Erdogan followed him with a nice layup in traffic to keep Tau's lead safe. Bouroussis committed his third foul few seconds later and Sergi Vidal's was able to increase the hosts' lead to 28-18 midway through the second quarter. Gershon decided to go with a small lineup as Vassilopoulos replaced Bouroussis at power forward, but he changed his mind rather quickly and got Schortsianitis back on court. But Baby Shaq needed only few seconds to also pick up his third foul. Rakocevic extended the margin by 2 more to cap a perfect first half from the free throw line, but that was not enough to make Olympiacos raise the white flag. Zizic made a basket-plus-foul play that was followed by the first two points by Macijauskas to keep the Reds alive entering the last minute. However Planinic, and especially Rakocevic, stepped up. Rakocevic hit his fourth three-pointer to extend lead to 38-25 and, although Hoskin answered him inside, Peker tipped the ball in at the buzzer for a 40-28 halftime Tau lead.
Both squads started at full throttle after intermission, playing fast and intense, but defense still prevailed over offense and prevented the score from growing. Domercant and Rakocevic answered each other in the early going, as both teams averaged a point per minute. Hoskin had Olympiacos's response from inside, but that seemed to cause Tau to explode via the Planinic/Teletovic duo. They combined for 6 points in a row to boost the hosts' lead to 48-32. Gershon called an urgent timeout, but nothing changed after the break as Rakocevic missed his first three-point attempt. However he did grab the second chance and fix the mistake with his fifth three. The Reds tried to respond, but Tau answered every spark with an incredible defensive effort that forced Olympiacos to turn the ball over too often. Tau increased its lead through quick fastbreaks to kill the visitors' hopes. Fred House ended the third quarter by putting Tau in safe position at 59-40.
Things got even worst for Olympiacos in the beginning of the last period as Planinic scored a layup, House followed him with a three, and Planinic made a 6-meter jumper to raise the difference to 66-40. The Reds seemed bedazzled and Gershon tried to change that by switching to zone defense. That slowed down Tau a bit, but it proved unhelpful as the main problem for the Reds were at the offensive end. Despite a 2-7 run that reduced the gap to 68-47 midway through the last quarter, nobody had already a doubt about the name of the winner. The hosts called for a timeout to kill off any last Olympiacos momentum and it worked fine as the lead was increased again to 75-49 with 3 minutes to go. With the outcome not in doubt, both teams faced the last minutes with the clear target of avoiding injuries and saving energy for the next game on Thursday.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007